The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame, Gillian Avery Ok, second attempt at a review after the damn interwebs ate my last one. Luckily I’m composing this one offline first.

To me Kenneth Grahame’s _The Wind in the Willows_ is a particularly fine novel. It’s a children’s story and normally that would get my back up. I’m generally not a big fan of children’s lit or YA, and to add to this I didn’t even read this book as a child and thus have the requisite rose-coloured glasses to lend credence to my love for the story. Somehow, however, this tale of the adventures of four animal friends in an idealized and idyllic Edwardian English countryside resonated deeply with me. I think part of this has to do with the deft hand Grahame shows in the creation of his characters: shy amiable Mole, courageous and resolute Ratty (that’s Water Rat by the bye), gruff but stalwart Badger and, last but certainly not least, frivolous and vain Toad, all partake of elements of archetype and yet are never fully defined by it, they manage to emerge as characters in their own right. The setting too seems to straddle the line between generic and specific. The animal friends are constantly travelling against a background whose very names are emblematic: the River, the Wildwood, the Town and yet when we come to their homes we could not wish to find more congenial or personal places of the heart.

Our tale (or perhaps I should say tales) begins as the shy Mole first pokes his nose out from his underground home to be presented with a newly discovered wider world he approaches with awe and wonder. I wouldn’t quite say that Mole is the main character of the stories that follow (though he is always a significant part of them), but I’ve always had a soft spot for him and enjoy seeing Grahame’s idealized English meadows, woods and countryside through his amiable eyes. Toad would probably be the more likely candidate, certainly for a good portion of the stories which concentrate on his adventures: a life-loving jester of a character with more money than brains always looking out for the next fad that is of course the fulfillment of his true heart’s desire…yet again. Indeed, keeping tabs on their friend and trying to hammer some good animal sense into his soft head is one of the major tasks the other characters must undertake in many of these tales. Grahame’s pacing is excellent, at times meandering with a leisurely pace from a boating foray on the River to spring-cleaning a much-loved home, and at others moving at breakneck speed to escape from prison or reclaim an ancestral home from dangerous enemies. Thus we follow our friends as they learn about their world and each other and I cannot say that there are many more enjoyable companions to be had for such a venture.

I’ve seen arguments online that these stories are somewhat parochial and insular: whenever the world outside of the hedgerows intrudes it is usually either a dangerous temptation or a destructive force. I can’t really argue with this, but does all literature need to celebrate the novel and the strange? Isn’t there a place for the well-loved hearth and a joyous homecoming? _The Wind in the Willows_ is nothing if not a celebration of the comfortable and the familiar, a paen for a world and a type of beauty fading away. There may be good reasons for why it had to die out, but I would argue that there is still value in remembering it. When I try to put my finger on what it is about this book that so captures my imagination and elevates it from being merely a tale about talking animals within the context of a long-dead worldview I think that Christopher Milne, son of the author of _Winnie the Pooh_, may have said it best when he talked of “those chapters that explore human emotions – the emotions of fear, nostalgia, awe, wanderlust.” It is these parts of the book that speak directly to my heart and examine the wider aspects of the human spirit.